Retiring SIU professor remembers his time working with Mary Tyler Moore


(Photo of Mary Tyler Moore provided by Ben Merk, Wikimedia Commons.)

By Olivia Spiers

With little more than an acceptance letter to California State University, John Hochheimer moved to Los Angeles from New York to jump-start a career in radio.  

It wasn’t long before Hochheimer, a retiring SIU professor of radio, television and digital media, was introduced to one of the biggest names in the entertainment business: Mary Tyler Moore.

Moore, known for her roles as Mary Richards in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and Laura Petrie in “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” died of pneumonia Wednesday in a hospital in Greenwich, Conn. She was 80.


While in college, Hochheimer worked as a union driver for Mary Tyler Moore Enterprises in the height of Moore’s career. His job was to transport writers, producers, and actors, including Moore.

Hochheimer thought back to the “family dinners” Mary would have on Friday nights after shooting. He said everyone would sit at one long table and eat dinner together, chatting about the day. Those “family members” he ate with were iconic actors Betty White and Gavin Macleod.

“There was no hierarchy there,” Hochheimer said. “Whether you swept concrete or acted, everyone was treated the same.”

Like Hochheimer, Moore moved from New York to California in hopes of finding success in the entertainment business.

Moore found her success in the 1970s with four Emmy awards for her role as Mary Richards, and two Emmy’s for “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Moore also founded Mary Tyler Moore Enterprises with her husband, Grant Tinker, former CEO of NBC, who died Nov. 28.

Moore transcended the traditional ideals of womanhood through her strong, feminine television roles. She often had American viewers questioning new issues of birth control, equal pay and sexuality.

While working on set with Moore, Hochheimer witnessed her innovative ideas when she began providing platforms for budding performers to make a name for themselves. One of those young artists was comedian Jay Leno.


“[The crew] was different from any other team in Hollywood,” Hochheimer said.

Hochheimer said he knew Leno from clubs in Boston before he became the regular warm-up guy for the show’s live studio audience.

After a long career as a professor of journalism, which included founding the journalism program at Ithaca College in New York, Hochheimer followed his passion to SIU. Shortly after arriving in 2006, he started his one-hour weekly jazz radio program on WSIU Radio, which he plans to continue after retiring.

Hochheimer said he was sad to hear of Moore’s passing. He would never forget her “million dollar smile” and “resiliency in the male-driven entertainment industry.”

“Anyone who knew Mary will remember how she handled her struggles with such grace,” Hochheimer said.

Staff writer Olivia Spiers can be reached at [email protected], 618-536-3325 or on Twitter @_spierso.

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